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- Posted on May 5th 2011 4:00PM by Dave Steinfeld
Vega is currently gearing up for what may be her greatest artistic challenge to date. Her new musical 'Carson McCullers Talks About Love' opens tonight (May 5th) at New York City's Rattestick Theater. The show, which runs until June 5, is based on the late, enigmatic Southern novelist who wrote such classics as 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter' and "Member of the Wedding.' Vega not only wrote the show's script and co-wrote most of the score with Broadway veteran and pop musician Duncan Sheik, but the 52-year-old singer also stars as McCullers.
Spinner chatted with Vega about her turn as a thespian as well as 'States of Being,' the third installment from her 'Close Up' four-volume CD series, which revisits songs from her back catalog in a more intimate musical setting.
How does performing in a musical compare to touring when you're promoting an album?
It's very different. First of all, I can't remember a time -- except when I was a dancer -- when I worked this hard. I always thought going on tour [was] fairly grueling but this beats even that. There's long rehearsals. When you're not in rehearsals, you're at home either working on your lines or finishing songs or doing the research. I mean, I was doing the research for this for ages. So it's really been a 24-hour a day project for months and months -- I've just been eating, drinking and sleeping this play.
Could you tell me how you first discovered Carson McCullers' work?
I think I read a short story of hers that was in some anthology when I was in high school. I was really into short stories and I read a short story [of hers] called 'Sucker' and I really liked it. I thought there was something very true and real about her writing voice.
A few years later, I saw her biography and I realized that Carson McCullers was a woman! I'd always thought Carson was a man. And I was intrigued by the photo on the cover of the book. Then, when I was studying acting in college, we were given an assignment to come in dressed as someone in the arts who was no longer alive, and I chose her. I mean, I looked something like her. That sort of planted the root, and after that I started to get to know her work and her life. So this sort of began all the way back then.
How is the show set up? Is there a story line per se or is it more you doing a monologue and periodically singing?
You learn the story of her life, basically. That's the story I'm telling on the stage. We start with stories about her as a small child in Columbus, Georgia, and we end with her in her final days -- but it's not necessarily chronological.
I've got two musicians onstage with me -- Joe Iconis on piano [and] Andy Stack on guitar. I come on as myself and I end the show as myself. You see me transform into Carson McCullers onstage. So it's sort of postmodern.
How many songs are there in the score and were they all written specifically for the show?
There are 16, more or less. I say "more or less" because we've juggled [them]. We cut one or we put one in, and we're still working on one or two. All of them were written for the show. Five of them were written back in 1980 when I was still at Barnard [College]. So I've actually worked with two composers. One is Michael Jefry Stevens and the rest [were] done with Duncan Sheik.
Some of the other musicians I've spoken with have cited you as one of the songwriters who's influenced them. Who are some of your favorite songwriters?
Leonard Cohen is a big one. Bob Dylan. Laura Nyro remains one of my favorite songwriters. Recently, I've discovered Josh Ritter, who's just fascinating. I tend to go for the acoustic songwriters who kind of venture over to the darker side of things.
The third volume of your 'Close Up' series is on the way, when is it coming out?
I thought it was gonna come out in May but it's gonna come out in June. We put that one to bed [a couple of] weeks ago.
What can we expect with this record?
Yeah, it's called 'States of Being.' It's the more intense songs. They're usually in the first-person. Some of the weirder songs like 'Cracking' or 'Blood Makes Noise' or some of the more prayerful ones like 'Penitent' or 'Undertow.' You know, they're not character songs and they're not love songs. So that's why they're called 'States of being.'
There's a bit more electronica on this album. And we continue to work with a string quartet -- so the arrangements are a little less acoustic than [the first volume of 'Close Up'].